By Dan Kuwali
Extremism and radicalisation have fuelled violence and terrorism, which are some of the burning problems that affect communities around the world today. Countering these scourges is in the interest of all states, considering the borderless effects of such criminal acts. An extremist is a person who advocates or resorts to measures beyond the norm, especially in politics, religion or culture. Radicalism denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways. The conflict of ideological influences from the colonial era in Africa and the clashes between religious models on the continent have resulted in socio-economic and religious imbalances in several countries. Political instability, which creates power vacuums and security lapses, discrimination, religious marginalisation, economic crises, including social penury and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, has contributed to the proliferation of extremist groups in Africa.
With steady funding from drug trafficking and hostage taking, the transnational nature of the actors, the porosity of borders along with the reduction of the area through modern means of communication tend to favour the propagation of extremism on the continent. From Somalia, al-Shabab extremists have launched attacks across East Africa. In Nigeria and neighbouring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps innocent men, women especially girls and children. The infiltration of Isis in North Africa has caused panic and brought to the fore the search for effective strategies to countering extremism.
Extremist groups are generally amorphous groups — “combatants without borders” — who recruit individuals willing to conduct terrorist attacks in their home countries or abroad. Although military force can hypothetically annihilate extremists, it cannot eliminate an ideology. Hence the need for a multipronged approach, as outlined in the 10 Cs approach below. This includes “soft power” mechanisms to engage with (and win the hearts and minds of) the segments of society that are normally targeted by radical groups for recruitment, support and funding.
1 Counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation programmes
Extremists are made not born and are, therefore, prone to de-radicalisation. Deradicalisation involves programmes directed at radicalised individuals to dissuade them from violence and reintegrate them into society through, for example, psychological counselling, vocational education, employment and prevent incarceration facilities from becoming breeding grounds for extremists. Counterradicalisation, on the other hand, aims at protecting people from extremism by addressing conditions that may propel individuals to become extremists such as by undermining leadership, challenging ideology, exposing hypocrisy and incentivising withdrawal from extremist groups.
2 Countering extremism — the duty to condemn violence and correct misinterpretations
Extremists are usually desperate for legitimacy and manipulate ideologies to justify their violence and recruitment. It is, thus, imperative to categorically condemn all acts of violent extremism and correct misinterpreted ideologies espoused by extremists. Since extremists brainwash young impressionable minds, leaders and clerics at all levels should provide clear and correct understanding of cultural, religious and political diversity including unity in diversity and promote tolerance and cooperation among young people.
3 Countering extremism with respect for human rights and humanitarian law
Often times counter-terrorism programmes trample on human rights. Strategies such as intelligence gathering, use of military force, and law-enforcement alone cannot solve — and when misused can in fact exacerbate — the problem of violent extremism. Such measures should, therefore, be developed and implemented in full compliance with international law, in particular international human rights law and humanitarian law. At the same time, states should be seen to protect the rights of individuals as well as their safety and security, not just monitoring their religious and political expression.
4 Choking the financing of extremists
Securing and sustaining funding is at the heart of the success of any extremist or insurgent organisation but it is also their Achilles heel. Generally, terrorists groups can draw on financing from two primary sources: firstly, internally, through illegal taxation and trade as well as proceeds from kidnap and ransom; and secondly, externally through donors sympathetic to their cause. Hence the need for concerted efforts by states and individuals to suffocate extremists from funding through legislative frameworks such as anti-money laundering and other anti-corruption strategies include condemnation of payment of ransom to terrorist groups in exchange for the release of hostages.
5 Cross and intra-cultural, faith and political dialogue
Promoting an alliance of civilisations and encouraging intercultural dialogue are important tools in cultivating a culture of peace and unity in diversity as well as promoting understanding, respect and tolerance among religious and cultural communities and combating stereotypes and dismantling prejudices on all sides. As such, states should build and bolster bridges of communication and trust to eradicate extremism through dialogue and amplify positive values, especially online. Having dialogue, however, may not be easy because extremists are not part of a centralised organisation, but are rather a group of factions that subscribe to varying degrees of extremism. Thus, schools and other educational establishments can play a crucial role in the development of a resilient community that upholds values of nonviolence, peaceful co existence and tolerance.
6 Conflict prevention — broad-based socio-economic development
Economic and social inequalities fuel discontent and encourage grievances that create conditions conducive to the spread of extremism. Therefore, governments should address socio-economic grievances by formulating policies that ensure broad-based socio-economic transformation through job creation without discrimination, equalisation of opportunities and expanding access to social services including education, especially for girls and women.
7 Combating corruption, promoting the rule of law and good governance
Since democracy is key to lasting stability and real security, states should promote democratic principles, create structures of governance and transparency. This entails free and periodical elections where people can choose their own future, independent judiciaries that uphold the rule of law, and police and security forces that respect human rights, freedom for civil-society groups including freedom of religion, free speech as well as fighting corruption, political patronage and nepotism.
8 Curbing terrorist propaganda and recruitment through the internet
The bright side of the internet — low cost, ease of access, lack of regulation, vast potential audience, fast communication and flow of information — has been turned into its dark side by extremists who have used it as a means for propaganda and recruitment. With nearly 70% of its population under the age of 30, extremists are capitalising on the poverty and high rate of unemployment among the youth in Africa by manipulating them with promises of quick gains. Governments face the dilemma of limiting the use of the internet through censorship or allow the free flow of online traffic to avoid undermining democratic values such as freedom of expression. Governments should establish mechanisms in collaboration with internet service providers to monitor irresponsible websites. In this way, internet sites that incite violent extremism can either be barred or systematically monitored to counter radicalisation and curb brainwashing and indoctrination.
9 Community empowerment to deter extremists groups
Extremists groups tend to promise social services and food supplies to communities in areas they control in order to win their support. Countering violent extremism efforts are effective where there are well-informed and resilient local communities not susceptible to the false promises of extremism. Investing in contacts with local communities not only facilitates and accelerates the process of information gathering, but can also act as an early observation or recognition system of any violent extremist tendencies, hence permitting an early and effective counterstrategy. For this reason, states should empower communities to protect themselves from violent ideologies and recruitment through public awareness, provision of policing services and integrating social service providers as part of the broader mandate of community safety and crime prevention.
10 Capability of security agents to protect populations at risk
Dealing with extremism is, in fact, dealing with criminality. Therefore security agents should be trained in countering radicalisation. Such training is crucial to improve the cultural competence of counter-radicalisation agencies. And security agents should have a deterrent capability to stop violent extremism at lowest cost and risk. For example, their presence (show of force) can have a significant deterrent effect. The show of force should be accompanied by credible political statements. Thirdly, troops and law-enforcement officers should have the capacity to execute arrest of armed extremists and bring them to justice.
Dan Kuwali is an extraordinary professor of law at the University of Pretoria and a fellow at the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School. He is the author of The Responsibility to Protect.